Editorial: Augustus and removing the stigma of mental illness

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The state chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), launched a statewide campaign on June 26 to end the stigma of mental illness in the workplace.

The CEOs Against Stigma campaign, funded by a grant from the office of Attorney General Maura T. Healey, launched with 25 chief executive officers on board.

Edward M. Augustus Jr.

Courtesy NAMI Mass

Edward M. Augustus Jr.

“Mental illness affects one in five adults and is the leading cause of workplace disability,” the group writes. “Unlike physical illness, mental illness carries a stigma that prevents many people from discussing their condition at work — leading to high turnover, low productivity and increased employer costs.”

According to NAMI Mass, the group “chose to focus this anti-stigma campaign on the workplace, in part, based on results from a 2014 statewide survey of 800 Massachusetts voters, which NAMI commissioned to gauge attitudes on mental illness.

“The results show that while 92 percent of people would advise people with mental illness to tell their families about it, and 76 percent would advise telling their friends, only 27 percent would advise telling their coworkers.”

“Every day, we see how stigma interferes with a person’s willingness to get treatment,” NAMI Mass Executive Director Laurie Martinelli said. “The research shows that in the workplace stigma not only discourages people from getting help, it also has a huge impact on productivity.”

The campaign, open to all organizations with more than 50 employees, has surged in a few short weeks. As of Monday, Aug. 9, 94 people have signed the CEO Pledge. Combined the companies and municipalities involved in the CEO Pledge have more than 180,000 employees.

Last Tuesday, Aug. 2, Worcester City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. became one of the latest chief executives to sign.

“Mental illnesses are the single greatest cause of lost productivity at workplaces across the country,” he wrote. “We can change that. As chief executive of the City of Worcester, that work starts with me.”

Augustus joins 93 other Massachusetts CEOs who have signed the pledged. Among those locally who have are Charles Faris of Spectrum Health Systems, David Forsberg of You Inc., Nicole Gagne of Community Healthlink, Edward Manzi Jr. of Fidelity Bank, and Rich Hooks Wayman of LUK, Inc.

The CEO Pledge reads, in part, “I will act as an Ambassador for CEOs Against Stigma by seeking to enlist fellow CEOs whom I believe share my commitment to a stigma-free workplace.”

CEOs also vow to educate themselves and their top executives in better understanding mental illness, offer NAMI presentations to their workforce, ensure health insurance and Employee Assistance Programs focus and deal effectively with the issue of mental illness, promote a stigma-free workplace by “encouraging open dialogue among employees about mental illness,” and help promote greater public awareness.

We applaud the efforts of NAMI Mass for raising the profile of the stigma of mental illness in the workplace, which it says is “the least acknowledged fact of workplace life.”

We applaud the CEOs from the private sector and public sector, for-profit entities and nonprofits alike who have signed the pledged.

Reducing the stigma of mental illness in the workplace is laudable and achievable. It promotes a productive and inclusive workplace.

We urge all chief executives to consider signing the pledge.

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